Benzodiazepines

Guide to Benzodiazepine Treatment

What was at one time the most widely used prescription drug is also among the most commonly abused. Benzodiazepines are a sedative-hypnotic like alcohol and barbiturates that cause relaxation and euphoria. However, users who take them for more than a few months may become dependent on them, and addiction can lead to abuse, dangerous withdrawals, and a host of adverse side effects.

Table of Contents

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines (benzos) are a category of psychoactive drugs that are widely used as a medicinal sedative. Benzodiazepines help people manage: Anxiety disorders, Panic disorders, Insomnia, Muscle relaxation, Seizures, and Severe alcohol withdrawal.

They work by enhancing the gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter at a particular receptor, which results in sedation and sleep-inducing effects. The neurotransmitter at play also controls muscle tone; when these medications are used, it can encourage the muscles to relax which makes the drug useful as an anticonvulsant.

The relaxing and sedating effects work together to create euphoria, which plays on the brain’s reward center and contributes to possible addiction. Benzos are recommended to be used as a short-term remedy because long-term use can cause dependence, in many cases, unknowingly. Also, these medications are not recommended for use by older adults. Despite this, benzo use seems to increase with age; the largest age demographic that uses the drug are 65 and older.

After the drug was synthesized and tested in the 1950s, benzos quickly became widely used all over the world, primarily for insomnia and other problems with sleep. However, because of the adverse effects and the risk of addiction, nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics recently have been growing in popularity.

Many people, including recreational benzo users, either do not know or understand how powerful these drugs are or what they are getting into when they use them for longer than prescribed or in a manner that is inconsistent with their purpose. Benzo misuse and abuse is an issue in the U.S., as data show.

The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that an estimated 497,000 people aged 12 or older misused sedatives in 2016; also in that year, an estimated two million people aged 12 or older misused tranquilizers.

 

Commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include:

  • Xanax (alprazolam)

    A fast-acting sedative that is reportedly one of the most widely prescribed and widely abused benzodiazepines on the market. Xanax slows down the central nervous system within 15 to 60 minutes and can leave people feeling drowsy and “out of it.” for a few hours.

  • Valium (diazepam)

    This long-acting sedative is prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, muscle spasms, and seizure disorders. It is one of the more widely used benzodiazepine medications and reportedly can lead to heroin abuse if it falls into the hands of drug users whose access to the prescription medication has been cut off.

  • Librium (chlordiazepoxide)

    The slow-acting benzo is used to treat people experiencing alcohol withdrawal. It’s addictive properties mean it should be taken as directed. People who use it incorrectly risk overdose and death. Some people who abused alcohol have abused Librium. Addiction to two substances presents a set of unique challenges that are best handled under the supervision of an addiction specialist or medical professional.

  • Klonopin (clonazepam)

    This benzodiazepine is prescribed to treat anxiety and seizures. The addictive nature of Klonopin, or K-Pin for short, means it is intended for short-term use. Using it longer than prescribed is not recommended as there is a high risk of developing a dependence on it.

  • Ativan (lorazepam)

    Ativan users take the sedative to manage their anxiety. It, too, is prescribed for short-term treatments. It calms users by suppressing the central nervous system. Ativan should never be mixed with alcohol or other depressants. Seizure, coma, or death can all result if this practice is followed.

What Are the Signs of Benzodiazepine Addiction?

Benzodiazepines are in a class of drugs called sedative-hypnotics that are known for their high addiction risk. One of the most common signs of benzodiazepine addiction is depending on a sedative to sleep or feeling unable to cope without its effects. If you’ve tried to cut back or discontinue benzo use and had to restart because of withdrawal symptoms, you might have a benzodiazepine addiction.

Another common symptom of benzo dependence is a change in the quality of your sleep. The drug is effective in helping people fall asleep, but it’s not proven useful in helping people stay asleep. You may wake up in the middle of the night or toss and turn without falling into a healthy sleep pattern.

When you wake up, you may not feel rested, or it may take you a long time to fully wake up. People who successfully quit benzo use or abuse often report waking up feeling more refreshed than they did while on the drug.

If you use benzos recreationally, you are more likely to become addicted, and you may start experiencing some adverse effects.

Physical and psychological, or mental signs of benzodiazepine addiction include:

  • Depression
  • Tremors
  • Dysphoria or feeling separated from reality
  • Appetite loss
  • Muscle twitching
  • Memory impairment
  • Motor impairment
  • Nausea
  • Muscle pains
  • Dizziness
  • Apparent movement of still objects
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sensitivity to touch, sound, and light
  • Numbness or pins and needles sensation
  • Hallucinations
  • Smell sensitivity

There also are other ways to tell if a loved one is struggling a benzodiazepine use disorder. Those signs include:

  • High benzodiazepine tolerance, dependence
  • Strong benzodiazepine cravings
  • Taking benzodiazepines without a prescription
  • Using benzos to get high
  • Using benzodiazepines stronger doses or higher doses than prescribed
  • Using them in ways inconsistent with their design
  • Mixing them with other substances (ex: alcohol and opioids) for stronger effects
  • Crushing up or dissolving benzos for IV injection
  • Preoccupied with benzo use
  • Increasing benzo doses for same effects
  • Seeking larger amounts by “doctor shopping”
  • Noticeable changes in appearance, hygiene
  • Change in eating habits
  • Loss of coordination, slow movements and speech
  • Shaking
  • Frequent sleepiness
  • Lowered inhibitions
  • Loss of interest in daily activities, hobbies, interests
  • Isolation from family, friends, colleagues

What Does Benzodiazepine Addiction Treatment Involve?

Benzodiazepine addiction treatment typically will start with the critical first step of medical detoxification (detox). Benzos are one of a few addictive drugs that have the potential to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. If you have developed a dependence on the drug, undergoing and completing detox is the safest way to avoid or prepare for possible delirium tremens and seizures.

Chronic benzo users who want to end their addiction are strongly advised to start the recovery process at a treatment center that offers detox as the first step. Many users will attempt to quit using the medications abruptly as they attempt to go “cold turkey.” This is a dangerous practice, and it’s one we highly discourage.

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A medical detox has key benefits. Clients are monitored closely as medical professionals safely remove the benzodiazepine(s) and other addictive or harmful substances from the system. This ensures that uncomfortable and/or life-threatening withdrawal symptoms are effectively managed. Clients can rest knowing that any medical emergencies that arise during their time in detox will be managed. Also, medical treatment for benzodiazepine addiction can be administered. In many cases, it is administered to help clients:

 

  • Gradually reduce the dosage of the benzodiazepine used; and
  • Switch to another benzodiazepine to taper off the one at the center of addiction

 

Detox is just the beginning of the one’s recovery from substance abuse. After detox, you may still have cravings that threaten your sobriety. The best relapse prevention strategy is a continuum of care. Continually pursuing recovery can help you ensure lifelong sobriety. Addiction treatment like residential and outpatient treatment can offer behavioral therapies, group therapy, and family therapy to not only show you how to deal with cravings but also to address the deeper issues that may have contributed to your addiction.

Once you’ve completed a treatment program, alumni and aftercare programs can help you safeguard your sobriety. Through 12-step programs, you can connect to a broader community of people in recovery that share your commitment to a drug-free lifestyle and can help encourage you along the way.

Benzo addiction recovery is not a quick process. It can take months or even years. Many users find it can take years to manage the post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) that remain after benzo addiction has been managed. They include:

 

  • Anxiety
  • Problems concentrating
  • Energy changes
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances

 

People who are managing benzo-related PAWS are advised to seek help and support from a center that offers aftercare services.

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How Dangerous Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines are serious prescription drugs that have a high risk for abuse. People who abuse the drug are more likely to experience dangerous side effects. Like alcohol, overuse of benzos can cause blackouts and memory loss along with several other psychological effects like paranoia and anxiety. Benzos have also shown to cause paradoxical reactions in some users. A paradoxical reaction refers to a drug effect that seems to contradict its intended use. Benzos are intended to decrease anxiety, remedy panic attacks, and relax the user. However, some users may experience behavioral disturbances, including increased irritability, hostility, and aggression.

Even benzodiazepine withdrawal can be dangerous. If you regularly abuse benzos or if you have used them for a long time (they are not recommended for use longer than a few weeks), quitting cold turkey can have some life-threatening consequences. Seizures have been known to occur in instances of abrupt cessation of benzo use. Seizures may not typically be deadly but if they occur when you are alone or driving, they can be. Quitting benzos abruptly might also cause delirium tremens, a condition characterized by confusion, hallucinations, and shaking.

In a small percentage of cases, Delirium tremens can be fatal.Benzos also carry the risk of fatal overdose. In 2015, more than 9,000 people were killed by benzodiazepine overdose. By themselves, overdose rarely leads to deadly complications. However, benzos are much more likely to lead to a deadly overdose when combined with alcohol.

 

Your Journey to Recovery Can Begin Today

Benzodiazepine abuse comes with dangerous withdrawals and the potential for a deadly overdose. If you or someone you know is struggling with benzodiazepine use disorder, getting help could save your life. Call Delphi Behavioral Health Group now at (844) 899-5777 to learn more about what you can do to start living a life free from benzo addiction. A treatment program tailored to you can mean starting a path to long-term recovery.

Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s trained addiction specialists are standing by and waiting for you to call us so we help you leave cocaine alone for good and put your like back together without it.

Treatment programs at Delphi Behavioral Health Group’s facilities provide unique therapy and counseling methods for certain addictions. They are designed to allow you to receive the daily support of the facility’s staff and your loved ones when you return home. Our treatment centers provide just what’s needed for community, counseling, and support throughout the day so clients can apply what they learn in their lives everyday life. Give us a call to discuss you or your loved one’s options today.